A Travellerspoint blog


Sauna by the lake

Irkutsk, Lake Baikal and the train to Ulaanbaatar

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When you've been on a train for 4 days it is most unnerving to discover you list from side to side when faced with firm ground. We were taken straight from the station at Irkutsk to a village on the shores of Lake Baikal where we were staying in a beautifully maintained chalet with fabulous views.

After the single best shower of my life and lunch that didn't involve noodles, we indulged in a traditional sauna, complete with cold showers and equally cold beer. The 13 of us may not have known each other at the beginning of the trip, but we were suddenly very well acquainted indeed... If there's a better way to get rid of 88 hours of train filth then I can't think of it. The chalet have made the very sensible decision to restrict guests drinking to a bonfire area at the back of the property, so that's where we headed, experimenting with the Russian style of vodka drinking- each shot followed quickly by something to eat, ranging from pickles to gummy bears.


A couple of days of fresh air, boat rides, walks and a Raynauds inducing lake swim (estimated at a bracing 10 °C) rendered us pretty unprepared for another 36 hours of railway and certainly not for 7 hours of border control (5 for the Russians, 2 for the Mongolians, mainly just shunting carriages back and forth. Mind boggling). A mere 44 hours (barely a commute by this point) after we started we reached Ulaanbaatar.


Posted by arianemeena 04:24 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

88 Hours

Moscow to Irkutsk

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And so to the train.
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Our little compartment was remarkably comfortable (helped by some tactical swapping ensuring neat and tidy girls were sharing). Of course, the first night had to be greeted with vodka and despite persuading our 'providnik' Sacha to join in, the boys' volume did incur the wrath of a couple of less lenient carriage attendants. The Russians seemed bemused, the other foreigners grateful to pass the time with English speakers.

The time didn't drag as I thought it would and the feeling of relaxation was complete- there was no other option. Days merged: sleep, read, eat, repeat. To add confusion to the sense of timelessness, the trains run on Moscow time but by the end of our 5193km we were 5 hours East of that. Each carriage had a samovar providing hot water for instant noodles, mashed potato and tea served in the traditional glasses we borrowed.

The scenery varied gradually- forest after forest, with the odd river or church providing some respite. Every few hours there was a longer stop where we were allowed off the train and ran to find a stable toilet and the babushkas selling their wares.

I'm not sure I could have managed any longer and I was grateful to be in 2nd class rather than the open bunks of 3rd, but it was an unmissable experience that taught me the effect of vodka goes much MUCH further on a moving train.

Posted by arianemeena 20:00 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Underground Cathedrals

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The surprisingly luxurious #19 Megapolis night train took us south from St. Petersburg to a wet and humid Moscow. The sun came out for an afternoon trip to the truly surreal VDNKh; once the Soviet governments' Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy, it is now overrun with cheap amusements and fast food kiosks.


That evening we went to see Swan Lake (in a theatre next to the Bolshoi as they are on their summer break, although the company was their youth corps) and took an atmospheric walk along the embankment of the Mockba River where Moscow showed off her most glittering jewels, lit up like Christmas.


The Kremlin's ticketing system is more than confusing but I managed to get timed entry to the Armoury, where the Kremlin's finest treasures are now displayed. One can see why you'd want to start a revolution, these guys loved their bling. The compound itself is full of cathedrals, each with its own identity. No trip to Moscow is complete without a tour of her finest metro stops- more like ballrooms than mass transit stations, they make our humble underground seems distinctly ordinary.

Lenin takes Fridays off so we had no choice but to fit in a visit to his mausoleum on Saturday morning before the train. It was certainly worth the effort; the reverence shown to him even today is palpable (smartly dressed soldiers line the route, hats and hands in pockets are banned) but I couldn't help think the poor man has been turned in to a giant candle.

In keeping with the start of trip it was time for a dash to the station to pick up supplies and board the train for 88 hours. Remind why I thought this would be a good idea?

Posted by arianemeena 00:58 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Apples and Vodka

London to St Petersburg

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Day 1, 7am- Terminal 5 Bag Drop
"I assume my bag will be checked through to St Petersburg?"
"Erm, no. We don't have an agreement with Air Berlin so you'll have to collect it and check it in again for your onward flight. But it looks like you have 55 minutes from landing to take-off..." *shakes head despondantly* "I'm not sure you'll make it"

Cue comedy dash through two Berlin terminals, profuse sweating and funny looks from German airport security.

So began my adventure and despite the unpromising start, so far so good. St Petersburg is stunning; full of history and architectural delights. Sunday night, having met my fellow passengers, we were treated to a celebration of 'Saviour of the Apple Feast Day' by the hostel manager. Apparently this festival calls for vodka, a bowl of apples and a replica Kalashnikov, specially unlocked from the wall.

There has been plenty of sight-seeing. My first metro trip was to the Fortress of Peter and Paul, where they have pimped their spires.
(Here is proof I'm here and not just sitting on my sofa uploading google images)


The Peterhof Summer Palace gardens were fabulous, the fountains rival Versailles and the boat trip back through the gulf of Finland and Neva river afforded great views of the embankments.

The morbidly named Church of the Spilled Blood was lined with mosaics and Spanish tourists. large_4D3EEF9F2219AC6817240E16125D0E27.jpg4D34247D2219AC6817C1F638A0CCD0B1.jpg

I ushered in 29 at Stirka 40°, a bar-come-laundrette that started life as a degree show art project and wouldn't look out of place in even the wankiest street in East London. Despite the obligatory birthday vodka I managed to get up to visit the Hermitage, an enormous repository of art housed in the glorious Winter Palace. Not even the American cruise ship groups with their CIA ear pieces could spoil the splendour of the interiors. image.jpg

Tonight we take the midnight train, leaving behind West-facing St Petersburg and heading to increasingly backward-facing Moscow.

Posted by arianemeena 07:44 Archived in Russia Comments (2)

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